Guidance Counseling Degrees: Masters, PhD & Online Course Info

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A master's degree or PhD in guidance counseling can lead to a career as a school counselor in several school settings. Get the truth about requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Study Guidance Counseling: Master's and PhD Degrees at a Glance

A master's degree in counseling is the minimum degree required to become a guidance counselor. However, a degree alone generally won't qualify you for one of these careers, since all states regulate the profession in public schools. You might need to obtain both a teaching and counseling license to work in a K-12 setting. If you're considering this career, also keep in mind that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an average job growth of 19% for school and career counselors between 2010 and 2020.

PhD programs in guidance counseling can open the door to a position as a college or university professor. A 17% job growth was expected for these postsecondary teachers over the same period. Some programs can even prepare you to obtain licensure as a psychologist, a job field with projected job growth of 22%. Let's compare the two programs:

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in providing youth and guidance counseling in the private or public sector People interested in becoming psychologists or advancing to supervisory and teaching positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Educational, guidance, school or vocational counselor ($57,000)* - Postsecondary psychology teacher ($75,000)*
- Clinical, counseling or school psychologist ($73,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 3-5 years after the master's, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60-70 credit hours
- Internship and counseling practicum
- A final project or thesis could also be required
- Anywhere from 60-103 credit hours, depending on the degree track
- Comprehensive examination
- Doctoral dissertation
- Counseling practicum and internship
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Some programs require education experience. Others prefer applicants with behavioral or social science backgrounds.
- Bachelor's or master's degree
- Schools might prefer applicants with relevant work experience. A degree in counseling could also be required.
Online Availability Hybrid programs are fairly common None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Guidance Counseling

Curricula for master's degree programs in guidance and school counseling are centered around child development topics, counseling theories and techniques, mental health issues and ethics. The name of the degree can differ between schools, but many award a Master of Education in Counseling or a Master of Arts in Counselor Education. School or guidance counseling is generally a concentration option in these programs.

Certification and licensure requirements vary by state, so be sure to enroll in a program that can help you meet your career goals. In addition to including internship requirements, some programs even go so far as to require students to earn passing scores on state licensing or certification exams before graduating.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Master's degree programs meet the minimum educational requirement for a job as a counselor
  • Internships, practicums and other requirements for certification or licensure are often built into the program
  • Some programs offer diverse training that can meet requirements for other types of counseling licensure
  • Programs might offer online classes for working students

Cons

  • Master's degree programs in this field can cost a significant amount without leading to a high-paying job
  • Admissions can be competitive
  • Some positions also require teaching credentials, which could entail additional training
  • Total time spent in college would be around 6-7 years

Courses and Requirements

Program curricula combine core courses in counseling theory and assessment techniques with special topics in school or guidance counseling. Some of the courses you might take include the following:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Behavioral theory
  • Child and adolescent psychopathology
  • Cross-cultural counseling
  • Substance abuse counseling

In addition to coursework, each program requires a unique combination of research and field experience. You could spend up to 600 clock hours completing an internship or practicum. These requirements provide you with the opportunity to work closely with counselors and get hands-on experience working with kids. You'll likely need to also complete a comprehensive project or thesis to demonstrate the skills and knowledge you've acquired during your degree program.

Online Degree Options

While guidance counselor programs cannot be completed entirely online, there are quite a few schools that allow you to take some or most of your lecture coursework via distance education. However, you'll still have to complete supervised field experiences at a school.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Deciding early in your degree program which grade level you want to work with can help you select coursework and internship opportunities that fit your career goals and allow you to build relationships with other professionals in the field. Graduate assistantships are another way to get additional experience, not to mention tuition assistance. The number of opportunities available is generally limited, so be sure to pursue any openings as soon as possible.

PhD in Guidance Counseling

Doctoral degrees in this field are often available through counseling or psychology programs offering concentrations in school counseling. There are even program tracks that include the classes and coursework necessary for obtaining licensure as a psychologist.

PhD programs in counseling can vary significantly with regard to prerequisites. Some schools award a master's degree en route to the doctorate, so you might gain admission with only a bachelor's degree. Before you apply, you'll want to make sure the doctoral program you select can prepare you for your state's licensing and certification requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • PhDs can open the door to psychologist positions
  • You can also teach at the collegiate level
  • Program internships and practicums might result in job offers after graduation

Cons

  • Only a master's degree is required for school guidance counselor positions
  • Strong competition is expected for tenure-track teaching positions*
  • Programs take an additional 3-5 years to complete

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Courses in guidance counseling doctoral programs focus on research analysis and experiment design in addition to counseling theories and techniques. Some topics you might study at the doctoral level include the following:

  • Statistics
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Group counseling
  • Vocational development theory
  • Personality assessment techniques

In addition to coursework, there are extensive practicum and internship requirements. You'll work closely with faculty to plan and develop your dissertation as well. If you're enrolled in a program that's preparing you to become licensed as a psychologist, you can expect a rigorous course schedule that includes additional clinical requirements.

Online Degree Options

The nature of counseling doctoral programs is such that attending classes and conducting research on campus are necessities. Internship requirements also make an online or hybrid program unlikely.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

If it's an option in your program, consider completing a psychologist licensure track. This option can open up additional job opportunities. You might also want to enlist the help of faculty who can locate supplementary training experiences to further develop your counseling skills.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Higher Education - Student Affairs
      • MS in Educational Psychology
      • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.Ed. in School Counseling (ITL)
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
      • M.Ed. in Educational Administration
      • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. in School Counseling
      • M.S. in General Psychology
      • Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
      • M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • M.A. in Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Arkansas State University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Education in Educational Theory & Practice
      • Master of Science in Education in Curriculum & Instruction
      • Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    6. George Fox University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
      • Educational Leadership, M.Ed. without Licensure
  • Online Programs Available
    8. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • M.S. - Educational Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Educational Technology Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Higher Education - Student Affairs
  • MS in Educational Psychology
  • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.Ed. in School Counseling (ITL)
  • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
  • M.Ed. in Educational Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • M.A. in School Counseling
  • M.S. in General Psychology
  • Master of Arts in Human Services Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Arkansas State University

  • Master of Science in Education in Educational Theory & Practice
  • Master of Science in Education in Curriculum & Instruction
  • Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

George Fox University

  • Master of Arts in Teaching

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Christian University

  • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
  • Counseling, M.A.
  • Counseling, M.A. Online

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration

What is your highest level of education?